On Cults

September 4, 2019


I believe all culture must have arisen from cult

- Alan Moore


I recently started an at-home workout regime recommended by a friend.


Having to look up a few terms (such as "EMOM"), I discovered that this program was actually a cross-fit program.


I didn't know very much about cross-fit. All I knew was that it was a cult. I know this because Salon told me so. And QZ. And the Washington Post. And the Daily Beast. And other reliable outlets, like Medium and College Humor.


The thing is, they're right.


A cult is just a group of people who define their identity in a shared manner. There are many different qualities that often distinguish successful and long-lasting cults from short-lived ones, such as having a transcendent or religious nature, or social means of enforcing norms within the group. But these are just details. Means to a purpose. The purpose and nature of a cult is identity.


"Cult" is used as a derogatory term in the way that "hate" is used. The critic sees the hate and cult-like tendencies in others, but not in himself.


Here's the secret: all social organization -- all culture -- emerged from cult.


The clue isn't just in the etymology. Think about your own society, and what it must have looked like in its early stages. All big things begin small, and all popular cultural paradigms were once unpopular. Logically, there is no path to "acceptable" culture except through cult. Alternative frames of identity, that rise up and challenged the established culture with new visions of the good, the noble, and the beautiful.


America began as a cult -- its founders were religious zealots fleeing their home countries to form a commune on a new continent.


"Cult" has a negative connotation because it conveys the otherness of the nature and values of the smaller group. The dominant culture is not thought of as a cult, just as a fish does not know that it is surrounded by water. Cults are "them." Only aberrations, deviations from the norm, are branded with the big "C."


Those who actually understand their words know better.


The claim that such-and-such group is a "cult" is not a criticism. It is an assertion. If the organization is, indeed, a cult, then whether or not it is a good cult does not depend upon its status as a cult, but upon the desirability of its vision.


CrossFit is a cult. It defines itself as a lifestyle, and not as a workout program. It aims to transform its members, expecting serious commitment and sacrifice, motivated by a unique, transcendent vision: a unique and holistic conception of what health looks like, and how it is measured.


Put simply, CrossFit is a cult of health.


Refusing to participate in the cult of CrossFit is not a refusal to participate in cult. Only hermits avoid the influence of cult altogether. Often, they are trying to start their own.


Your cult might not care about health. Or it might hold the "dad bod" as the ideal male form.


In either case, there is no escape from cult. Refusing to admit any cult-like qualities in your society will simply leave you blind, and rejecting all cult-like behaviors in your society ("because bad people do that!") will leave your community weak and ineffectual. You are a product of cult. It's time to quit being coy about it.


The only question is "which one?"


Which values do you want your cult to uphold?


What sort of vision?


What kind of "lifestyle?"


The Cascade Legion seeks to create a culture for ourselves: this means that we are a cult.


We are a cult of strength, order, and discipline. These are values we hold as beautiful, intrinsically worthwhile, and useful... and yet, easy to neglect if not pursued with religious devotion, and with the outsourced motivation of group-accountability.


You may not share our vision. That is of no concern to us. We are not here to proselytize, but to pursue our own aims. We are not interested in politics, arguing, or "dialogue."


But do not imagine that you have escaped the influence of cult because you look down upon and mock smaller cultures than your own. Where cults are concerned, feelings of aloof superiority are the marks of the herd animal. The herd animal goes home and worships his television, his podcasts, his work, oblivious to the ritualistic and religious nature of these acts, or how they give him an identity. His smirking eyebrows tell you that someone else holds the reigns to his heart.


They're probably making a killing.


And the herd animal just gets fatter.


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